BRISTOL, Tenn. — The track surface at Bristol Dragway was slick as ice and the hot afternoon air hung heavy when qualifying commenced at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals on Saturday.
But while most drivers and crews found themselves desperately groping for some grip, Greeneville’s Allen Johnson nailed the run of a lifetime. Mike Edwards could only look on as the provisional pole position he earned on a cool track surface Friday night evaporated the moment Johnson crossed the line with a 6.722 ET, wresting away the No. 1 spot in today’s final Pro Stock eliminations.
As if that wasn’t enough good news for the Johnson family, Allen’s father Roy also will be racing on Father’s Day after advancing to the semifinals of the Stock Eliminator class in his first race behind the wheel in nearly 30 years.
“My mom said it best,” Allen Johnson said. “She walked in and just hugged me, started crying and said, ‘What a dream.’ I agree with her. To come up here and do this good, me and Dad both, it is emotional.”
Roy Johnson has been pulling double duty this weekend, driving his 2009 Dodge Challenger and tuning his son’s ’10 Dodge Avenger. The elder Johnson hit home runs in both respects Saturday, nailing the perfect setup on his son’s car prior to the third qualifying run.
“Dad works so hard and has for 20-some years,” Allen Johnson said. “First time back in the driver’s seat in 27 years, so to come out here and do that, it’s just so emotional for me.
“I’d rather watch him today than go out and win the race myself, I think. He’s into the semifinals, so maybe he can get a little bit of luck and win this thing and I can, too.”
Allen Johnson wasn’t expecting to be able to challenge Edwards’ time Saturday. After his team missed the setup Friday night, Johnson said he was disappointed that a golden opportunity to qualify No. 1 at his home track had passed him by.
“I thought we’d get close, but I thought we’d miss it by a hundredth,” Johnson said. “We made one of the most awesome runs we’ve ever made, but usually when our car performs the best it’s in the heat.
Johnson will take on Warren Johnson in the first round today, hoping to end the day with a win in his own backyard.
“If we can maintain lane choice tomorrow, we’ve got something for them,” Johnson said.
In the Nitro divisions, the provisional pole positions held by Ashley Force Hood in Funny Car and Antron Brown in Top Fuel were not challenged. Instead, everyone was busy trying to find a way to get down the track without striking the tires.
Force Hood and Brown both called the track “tricky,” and both predicted some pedal-fests as the afternoon wears on.
“Today is setting everyone up for tomorrow just because the conditions will be similar,” Force Hood said. “We’ll take what we learned from our two runs. It was kind of both ends of the spectrum — one we didn’t get down and the other we basically got down almost the whole way before (the tires) started spinning.
“It will help to give us boundaries for how much the track will take without pushing it too much.”
Force Hood will take on Jeff Diehl in the first round.
Given the conditions, Brown put together a couple more impressive passes Saturday, but he’s in no position to take anything for granted in the first round today, thanks to an uncharacteristically poor qualifying effort by Doug Kalitta.
“It will be like a final-round matchup in the first round,” Brown said. “Nobody in a million years would think you qualify No. 1 and have to race Doug Kalitta in the first round.”
But Brown was happy with his performance in qualifying, and given his team’s past success on slick surfaces, he’s hoping that a wave of momentum is finally picking up some steam.
“When the weather gets like this, we can definitely get our car from A to B,” he said. “Our car went down it four runs in a row, so I’m stoked about that. It’s going to be one of those mind-boggling days with the heat and you’re going to see some pedal racing tomorrow, too.”
Final eliminations start Sunday at noon.